The Holiday Lights Tour: An Elf-Lead Downtown Pick-Me-Up

Dec. 12, 2016
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Elf-by-night Anna Lardinois leads the Holiday Lights Tour through downtown Milwaukee.

It’s hard to find anyone in downtown Milwaukee as excited for Christmas as Anna Lardinois, founder and guide of the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Tour. It’s certainly easy enough to spot Lardinois, dressed in a full-on Santa’s elf costume as she leads groups of holiday lovers of all ages through downtown. Lardinios is best known for her “Gothic Milwaukee” tours, which recount tales of haunted Milwaukee history in downtown. But in the run-up to Christmas, Lardinois trades in the ghouls and gore for candy and jingle bells. “This is, by far, the least profitable part of my business,” Lardinois told Around MKE. “But when I make someone smile by wearing my costume, or [when] a little kid runs up to me so excited to have candy with an elf, it make the experience wonderful.”

The tour starts at Cathedral Square Park and moves (briskly on especially cold nights) down to Wisconsin Avenue and over to Water Street. It’s less of a sightseeing tour than an overall Christmas appreciation walk – Lardonois plays holiday songs from a small speaker and offers candy prizes for correct answers to Christmas trivia questions. There are stops along the way to discuss some of the sites of interest, like the large light displays that hover over Wisconsin Avenue and the City Hall Christmas tree. There are plenty of interesting facts to learn on the tour as well. For example, this is the 103rd year that the city has displayed a Christmas tree – only New York City has had an official tree longer. The tour also visits the “slice of ice” skating rink in Red Arrow Park, which is – to my great surprise – actually larger than the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York.

Part of the display inside the BMO Harris bank on Water Street

While the weather can take a bit of the spirit out of the tour, there are multiple stops along the way to warm up. Most notable of these is the lobby of the BMO Harris Bank on Water Street, where an expansive holiday display makes for fun viewing. The highlight of this was the large, animatronic bear colony. The kids loved it and many of the adults found themselves somewhat mesmerized as well. From the bank, the tour heads west, past the City Hall Christmas tree and the Red Arrow skating rink and across the river to the light display of Pere Marquette Park. One final trek east returns the group to Cathedral Square, where kids marvel at the lighted trees and other holiday displays. The tour is a fun excuse to venture out on a chilly night with no objective greater than simply enjoying the sights of Milwaukee at Christmastime. And Lardinois, as the elf master of ceremonies, does a great job of entertaining the kids and kids-at-heart, and even getting a smile from those with a touch of humbug. For her, it’s a true labor of love. “Having the same people come over and over again makes me feel “reverse-Grinch,” my heart swells two and half times larger than normal.” 

The Holiday Lights Tour runs Tuesday through Friday between now and December 23. The tour starts at 6:00 pm at the corner of Jackson and Wells. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $6 for children. See for more information.


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